Monday, May 10, 2010

the housekeeper and the professor

"The Housekeeper and the Professor" by Yoko Ogawa is a truly wonderful book. Ogawa is one of my favorite authors. I learned about her in the literary journal "A Public Space," a journal out of Brooklyn, NY that contains many themes - seeing and feeling the world through someone's eyes and heart, especially a someone who is small and forgotten, someone who is an underdog; finding wisdom in the seemingly foolish and strength in the seemingly weak - that are meaningful to me. Here is a synopsis of the story from Powell's Books -

He is a brilliant math Professor with a peculiar problem--ever since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory.
She is an astute young Housekeeper, with a ten-year-old son, who is hired to care for him.

And every morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to each other anew, a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them. Though he cannot hold memories for long (his brain is like a tape that begins to erase itself every eighty minutes), the Professor's mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. And the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her young son. The Professor is capable of discovering connections between the simplest of quantities--like the Housekeeper's shoe size--and the universe at large, drawing their lives ever closer and more profoundly together, even as his memory slips away.

The Housekeeper and the Professor is an enchanting story about what it means to live in the present, and about the curious equations that can create a family.

Here is a review I wrote about the story for Powell's Books -

This book is a serendipity, like a flower growing through the cracks of a cement sidewalk. Ogawa's lowly housekeeper, broken math professor, and latchkey kid show the essence of being human - building community in the midst of loneliness, finding hope in the midst of despair, being human in the midst of inhumanity. It also introduces the wonderful worlds of math and baseball. A simply profound book that is profoundly simple!

I'm looking to vanquish the cruelties of the real world and I'm always hoping to find authors like Ogawa to who are signs who point the way.

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